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Sunday, July 29, 2001

CHANNEL SURF

Tie the knot, raise a family, take the plunge

TBS's new daily, 30-minute hiru-dora (afternoon drama) series premieres Monday at 1:30 p.m. "Kids War 3," which TBS is promoting as a "home comedy," is the third 45-episode series about the ups and downs of the Imais, a Brady Bunch-like family trying to make do in contemporary Japan. Haruko (Akiko Ikuina) and Daisuke (Taro Kawano) Imai each bring to their union two children from past marriages. Together they have produced a daughter, and Daisuke's mother completes the eight-member household.

Haruko's past is that of a "yankee mama," a term used to describe young uneducated women, usually from lower-middle-class backgrounds, who marry and have children at a very young age while maintaining the fast lifestyle of a delinquent teenager. Needless to say, those days are long gone, and Haruko, who is very fair and very, very outspoken, has her hands full raising five kids, especially since the oldest girl is at that volatile junior-high-school age.

"Kids War 3" addresses all the current social problems facing Japan, including teenage violence, educational reform and the difficulties of raising children is an uncertain economic environment. Don't forget, though, it's supposed to be a comedy.

At the other end of the socioeconmic scale, there's the Tsujiguchis, who live on a rambling, seaside estate and whose breadwinner is the director of a major hospital.

But despite their riches and high social standing, the Tsujiguchis are not a happy family. Years ago, their daughter, Ruriko, was kidnapped for ransom and killed at around the same time that the wife, Natsue, was involved in a love affair with a young intern at her husband's hospital. Devastated by their loss, the couple reconciled and adopted a little girl, but unbeknown to Natsue, the baby her husband chose to adopt was the daughter of Ruriko's killer. Years later, when the adopted girl, Yoko, is a teenager and Natsue learns the truth, she takes out all her secret frustrations out on the innocent and unsuspecting girl.

"Hyoten" (Thursday, 8:54 p.m.) is based on a best-selling 1964 novel by the late Ayako Miura, and the current serialization marks the fourth time the book has been adapted for television. The first time was in 1966, when the main role of Yoko was played by Yoko Naito, and the second time was in 1971, when the part was played by Yoko Shimada. The roles catapulted both young actresses to stardom. In 1989, the book was adapted again, but this time as a one-night-only drama special. All three were produced by Asahi TV (or, in the case of the '66 production, Asahi's predecessor NET), as is the present series, though the setting has been changed from Asahikawa in Hokkaido to Kamakura.

The new series focuses mainly on Natsue (Yuko Asano), who in past adaptations was presented as a monster, but here is portrayed as a woman led astray by suffering.

In this week's episode, the third, a television reporter calls on Natsue to discuss the famous kidnapping, thus raising suspicions in Natsue's mind that Yoko's secret has leaked out. Murai (Eisaku Yoshida), the intern whom Natsue once had an affair with, tries to convince Natsue to run away with him. And Yoko is shocked to find that somebody has ripped up an award she received for a speech contest and thrown it in the trash.

Based on the world-famous Bognor Birdman Contest that recently celebrated its 30th anniversary in England, Nihon TV's "Toriningen Contest" will mark its own milestone -- 25 years -- Saturday at 7 p.m.

Like the Bognor event, the contest takes place on a pier from which aspiring aviators launch homemade flying machines (which are sometimes nothing more than their own bodies outfitted with wings) in an attempt to out-distance their competitors. Mostly, however, the devices simply drop off the end of the pier into the water below, which, in the case of the Japanese contest, is Lake Biwa. Any energy necessary for the flying machines must be provided by the pilots themselves. And while the English event is characterized by eccentrics in bird costumes and machines made up to look like jalopies, the Japanese version features a much more ambitious breed of contestants, mostly engineering students and professional technicians sponsored by the companies they work for. Theory is the thing.

This year's contest will feature 49 teams competing in three different flight classes: gliders, man-powered propeller aircraft, and, for the first time, man-powered helicopters.



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